At a recent IEP meeting, we discussed a reading profile of a student on the autism spectrum. In my experience, there is often a wide gap between an ASD student’s vocabulary identification and reading comprehension. How do we help remediate this gap? Here are some strategies I’ve found effective:
- Use reading material on topics of interest. I have had to write my own materials at times, when a student has a particularly narrow range of interests. The next best option is to find reading material that can be related to an area of interest. Spend time exploring the student’s prior knowledge of that book/passage and provide/elicit possible questions the student may be able to answer after reading.
- Teach students the differences between narrative and informational texts. Provide graphics that outline these two formats. Add question cards with single words or symbols to represent the types of questions associated with these texts. Require students to make predictions at appropriate points in the text. Provide visual cues to prompt these predictions as they read.
- For teaching narrative features, use photos or illustrations of characters, the story problem, and problem resolution. This could be organized like a trail or road, depending upon a student’s interests. A Minecraft-style path may be engaging for lots of kids.
- For teaching informational text features, an outline form or building block format is helpful. Again, use a student’s interests to shape the graphic into an engaging tool.
- Assess and teach specific skills related to reading comprehension. Many of my ASD kids have had weaknesses in inference and prediction. I have used “Tasks of Problem Solving” by LinguiSystems (now owned by PRO-ED) for both assessment and instruction. (I’ll review this resource in another post).
- Model and rehearse the process of summarizing short sections of text. The challenge is to keep the dialog on task, not losing focus and momentum as small chunks are summarized. Again, prepare visual cues that can be matched to the side of a paragraph. Older students could create their own picture/word sticky notes, but when modeling this strategy, use pre-prepared images. Verbal retelling is an instructional option, as well. If that proves effective, students could record their verbal summaries independently on an app as they read.
- Provide opportunities for students to share what they’ve read, especially in a leadership role. They could be a mentor to younger kids or create a digital presentation to their class of what they’ve read.
To summarize, take advantage of your student’s strengths in using visual cues and their strong preferences for certain topics. Identify specific areas of weakness in reading comprehension to address. Teach strategies explicitly, providing a name and symbol for each one. And enjoy! Reading can be a passionate pursuit for our kids on the autism spectrum as it opens the door to more information and connections with others.